Friday, September 11, 2015

Philippe Petit on the Twin Towers


Do you remember?

On 7 August, 1974, The French tightrope artist Philippe Petit spent forty-five minutes in the air between the newly constructed Twin Towers. He didn't merely go from one tower to the other; he walked back and forth eight times. Once, he laid down on the wire and rested.

A thousand feet below, crowds quickly formed. On the sidewalk, his girlfriend started things off by pointing into the sky:
Look! A wirewalker! A wirewalker!
If you haven't seen it yet, I urge you to view the documentary of the effort, Man on Wire. It is beautiful and fascinating.

The essay below, by Petit himself, was published in the Wall Street Journal two years after 9/11. It is quirky and strange. Some might even find it off-putting.

I remember reading it on my parents' porch and crying uncontrollably. It is difficult for me to avoid doing so now.
My Towers, Our Towers 
By PHILIPPE PETIT 
You breathe, don't you? 
So do I. And so did they, the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Whenever a cloud interrupted the sunshine that made their silver robes flutter chromatically, the drop in temperature caused the steel skeletons to contract a little; when it passed, they expanded again. 
You and I groan in anger at times. So did they, when gales forced them to sway, although they had been designed to win that sort of tug-o-war. 
All this I know for a fact; because I rigged a cable between the two towers, from crown to crown -- the appellation for the inclined set-back of the top floors that supported the roof, coined by Leslie Robertson, the buildings' structural engineer. 
That gray morning of Aug. 7, 1974, the twins, separated at birth, acquiesced in a temporary union, as they welcomed a trespassing poet determined to etch his destiny upon the sky. I linked them with a smile, that of my cable's catenary curve. The curve of my involuntary smile mirrored that of the cable as I took my first steps. The towers whispered in awe. At mid-crossing, I sat down to contemplate the horizon and noticed that it, like my balancing pole, was slightly curved; the towers had imparted to me a most important discovery: "The earth is round!" They quieted down the moment I genuflected, so that I could hear the clamoring of the astonished audience that had gathered a quarter of a mile below. The towers kindly held their breath as I lay down upon the wire, they eavesdropped on my silent dialogue with a red-eyed sea gull that hovered above me. 
That morning, the twin towers became my towers. 
Six years earlier, learning of their impending birth, I had decided to conquer them. I watched them grow. I spied on them. I fell in love. Then, under cover of night, I married them, with a seven-eighths-inch steel cable composed of six strands of 19 wires each. At daybreak, the entire world was our witness. 
For what seemed an eternity, we enjoyed each other. I visited them often, through the ups and downs of their colorful lives. I introduced them to my friends and family. And then, on a perfectly clear blue September morning, I watched them die, stabbed in the back by assassins who vaporized in mid-air. 
I heard my towers cry for help for a long, long time. I listened in anguish, powerless, to their last sighs. I witnessed their collapse and fell silent, eviscerated. Where had they gone? Who besides me knew that, despite 200,000 tons of steel, glass, concrete, and aluminum, the towers were made mostly of air? Between every piece of solid material, air! Mostly air. Could it be air to air? Like ashes to ashes? 
Fluidly, in a deadly cascade of smoke and debris, in a matter of seconds, they erased themselves, taking thousands of human lives with them. 
I close my eyes, I remember and pay my respect to the victims and their families. That dreadful morning, my towers became your towers, our towers. 
Eleven years ago, when my young daughter died without warning, the dean of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, came to my side. He offered me guidance from his heart, but quite commandingly: "Speak of her in the present; you must not use the past tense!" 
When asked today, "Do you have children?" I answer, "Yes, I have a daughter named Gypsy. She is nine and a half years old, and no longer alive." 
So are my twin towers, our twin towers, gone, yet still standing tall, made of thin air, yet gloriously defying the sunset on this warm late summer evening. 
Look at them! 
Mr. Petit, artist in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, walked on a high-wire from one Twin Tower to the other on Aug. 7, 1974.
Cross posted at Mahound's Paradise.

Monday, May 4, 2015

R.I.P. Grace Lee Whitney

Captain Kirk: "No beach to walk on." Yeoman Rand: "Sir?"

From Variety:
Grace Lee Whitney, Yeoman Janice Rand on ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 85
by Pat Saperstein 
Actress Grace Lee Whitney, who was most well known for playing Yeoman Janice Rand on the original “Star Trek” series, died May 1 in Coarsegold, Calif. She was 85. 
A recovering alcoholic, she helped many people with addiction problems through women’s prisons or the Salvation Army. Her family told NBC News that she would prefer to be remembered more as “a successful survivor of addiction” than for her “Star Trek” fame. 
Her death was announced by StarTrek.com, which recounted that she was dropped from the show after the eight first episodes and turned to drugs and alcohol before getting treatment and regaining her career with help from Leonard Nimoy. 
Whitney was cast as the personal assistant to William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in the first season of “Star Trek” in 1966. She told StarTrek.com about her character’s crush on Kirk, “It could not be consummated. It had to be love from afar, an unrequited love between the captain and me.” 
She returned for the movie franchise starting with 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” with a promotion to chief petty officer, then in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and she was finally promoted to lieutenant in 1991’s “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” 
Born Mary Ann Chase in Ann Arbor, Mich., she started out as a singer and dancer. She guest-starred on numerous other shows of the 1960s and ’70s including “77 Sunset Strip,” “Batman,” “Cannon” and “Hart to Hart.” In 1998, she joined George Takei, Walter Koenig and Majel Barrett for a guest appearance on “Diagnosis Murder.” 
In later years she attended “Star Trek” conventions and wrote an autobiography, “The Longest Trek.”
Interestingly, Proofreader reports that Yeoman Rand had more dialogue in the first fifteen episodes than any other supporting actor except Scotty.

She was always a favorite of Star Trek fans.

William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig still survive.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

All You Zombies: A Lesson on Hate Speech, Identity and Blogging


I think this post may be of interest to both my RPG game friends and my political/religious friends, so I'm cross-posting it on both of my blogs Save Versus All Wands and Mahound's Paradise.

In the classic Robert Heinlein time-travel story, All You Zombies, a man discovers that he was actually born as a woman and that all the important people he knows--including his own mother and father--are in fact past (or perhaps future) versions of himself. It's a sort of existentialist time-travel nightmare. And it ends with the narrator uttering these classic lines:
I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?
I felt a headache coming on, but a headache powder is one thing I do not take. I did once—and you all went away. 
So I crawled into bed and whistled out the light. 
You aren’t really there at all. There isn’t anybody but me—Jane—here alone in the dark. 
I miss you dreadfully!
I was reminded of this during the recent mini- (extremely mini) blogging controversy referenced by me in two recent Mahound's Paradise posts. Let me review:

In the first post, Dinah Silverstein Wants to Suppress Your Hate Speech, I cited another blog post, America Desperately Needs A Hate Speech Law, written by a "Dinah Silverstein" and published on The Times of Israel website (the link is real but the post was subsequently removed). It was an extreme anti-hate speech essay, and in good anti-anti-hate speech blogger fashion, I spent a thousand or so words ridiculing it (and then reprinting it in its entirety). Not to justify myself too much but my humble and still not very well-read blog followed in the footsteps of a number of far more well-read blogs such as Five Feet of Fury and The Other McCain that also criticized the piece. I imagined I did the most thorough job (I have far more time, since they write more posts than I do). Keep reading to see where that got me.

In the second post, Breaking: That Times of Israel Hate Speech Blog Post is a Fake, I reported that one source had discovered that on her The Times of Israel bio blurb "Dinah Silverstein" had presented as her own photograph the photograph of another blogger and activist, Nancy Goldstein. So, logically, she was Nancy Goldstein or she was someone else who had stolen her picture. I guessed it was the latter.

In addition, "Dinah Silverstein", despite describing herself as a human rights campaigner and activist, had no Google trail whatsoever. 

Soon, I updated the entry to take into account reports from another source--cargosquid on a blog post from Miguel on Gun Free Zone--that most if not all of the text from "Dinah Silverstein" was either paraphrased or lifted word-for-word from two posts here and here, written two months ago, by yet another blogger, "Tanya Cohen."

Important Digression: On Mahound's Paradise, many of my posts have chronicled mainly left-wing and Muslim anti-Semitism. But there's also a huge amount of right-wing anti-Semitism out there (obviously). Since Dinah Silverstein, Nancy Goldstein and Tanya Cohen, whether real or not, all appear to be Jewish, there are many links appearing on the first few pages of any Google search on the controversy that make negative reference to the "Jewess" Silverstein (or Goldstein or Cohen). See, as unfortunately just one example, here.

But back to the main topic. So “Dinah Silverstein” lifted her words from “Tanya Cohen”. But if you look into it–the best place to start is That Crazy Story About Making ‘Hate Speech’ A Crime? Yeah, That’s Satire on Techdirt–it’s almost certain that “Tanya Cohen” is also not real. She posted two and only two blog posts two months ago–both of them just as over the top as the one by “Dinah Silverstein”. Yeah, she wrote a brief clip for Daily Kos, but it was also at about the same time. She has a Twitter feed but it starts, you guessed it, at exactly that time and consists of nothing but three relatively content free tweets and numerous re-tweets over the space of two months. Nowhere is there a photograph or an identifiable biography and there is no Google trail going back any farther.

So, it would be too much much of a coincidence to believe one fake person lifted stuff from another fake person. It’s obvious that “Dinah Silverstein” and “Tanya Cohen” are the same person. The only questions (for those not asleep by now) are: who is that person and what is their motivation? Possibilities:
  1. He or she is a pro-free speech satirist (Techdirt’s opinion). 
  2. He or she is a silly person with silly opinions (perhaps a teenager or whatever), who is dumb enough to have dumb opinions but smart enough to get blog post placement in semi-well read niches but who for some reason wants to remain anonymous and steal other people’s photographs.
  3. He or she is a troll (perhaps completely apolitical) who simply wants to stir up trouble, mess with people or just see what they can get away with. 
Frankly, I think one of the lessons here is that there are bloggers, such as Kathy Shaidle (the author behind Five Feet of Fury), Michael Walsh at PJ Media and, well, me, who sometimes get caught railing against fake straw men (or fake straw women as the case may be). A sobering lesson for us all, whatever side we are on.

I'm now inclined to 3. But at this point it almost do
esn't matter. I've written a few parodies myself and linked to a few others. I thought of all of them as "Onionish"--close enough to be funny, but outrageous enough to be obviously fake--but it's always amazed me how there were always people who believed them. Weirdly (to me) those people would often appear to keep digging their own holes, so to speak. Rather than good-naturedly laughing at themselves for being taken in, they tried to justify their own credulousness by saying that the whole world was crazy and thus they shouldn't be blamed for believing another crazy thing, etc. Or in at least two cases, they started attacking me for lying and spreading false information, etc.

So, I'm going to do some of the above and not do some of the above (you may, of course, judge me or not based on that):
  1. The whole anti-hate speech thing is silly and sinister, regardless of the "reality" of the referenced posts (I know, that's a whopper of a justification, but still).
  2. The world is crazy (ditto).
  3. I'm laughing at myself (see, I can do that).
  4. I'm not going to attack anyone, partly because I don't know who to attack.
  5. I have too much blogging time on my hands.
  6. But so do other people, as much as I love them (see, that's another part of my justification.)
  7. I'm going to report this "story" as it develops, regardless of who it makes look silly, even if it's me (see, that's another part of my justification.)
I've been blogging for a while, both about RPG gaming and, more recently, on politics and religion. I can't say I'm a newbie, exactly. But I don't tweet, and the whole issue of trolling and anonymous posting with all of its implications is still new to me. I'm fascinated by this story (and that's independent of my own personal views on "hate speech" or whatever). Who is "Dinah Silverstein/Tanya Cohen"? What is their motivation? Judging from the Google traffic, not that many other people are as interested, or they've seen it all before or whatever. That's okay, and it's probably the most healthy attitude. If no other information is forthcoming, this will probably be my last post on the matter. But we'll see what else turns up...

Dinah Silverstein isn't real.
Tanya Cohen isn't real.
Nancy Goldstein is real but she isn't talking.
I miss you all dreadfully.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner, Part 2, McGoohan "Had Extreme Catholic Views on Sexuality"

Patrick McGoohan in Danger Man

Also see Part 1 here.

The quote is from director David Cronenberg who directed McGoohan on the set of his classic horror film Scanners in 1981. More from Cronenberg at the end of this post. But first, let me take a few steps back...

A number of sources have dubbed McGoohan a "devout Catholic". In my experience that label is often misused by the secular media, often meaning almost the opposite of what it purports to mean--that so and so is a self-identified "Catholic" who is not devout (he or she has actually been divorced seven times or whatever). However, McGoohan was an attractive and charismatic actor who hit his stride in the 1960's and settled in Los Angeles but who was married to the same person for almost sixty years until his death. If that's not a tell, nothing is. Perhaps equally significant, he made potentially career ruining decisions about acting roles based on his Catholic beliefs. I'm not sure I know of another actor as prominent or even nearly as prominent where the same applies. Here is a relevant excerpt from an article on him in The Daily Express, published two years after his death, in turn based on Rubert Booth's biography:
A Prisoner of his Demons 
IN 1960 Patrick McGoohan was offered the role of James Bond in Dr No. 
He turned it down flat. The role went to Sean Connery, it made him an overnight star and spawned the world’s most famous movie franchise but McGoohan – who cemented his reputation playing the Bond-like character of John Drake in Sixties TV series Danger Man – never regretted his decision. 
While most men viewed Bond as an aspirational figure and most actors would have given their eye teeth for such a part McGoohan found the character contemptible and simplistic. It wasn’t just Bond’s cheapening of life with a Walther PPK which bothered him: he despised Bond’s attitude to women. He felt the same way about The Saint, a part he was offered ahead of Roger Moore and which he turned down for similar reasons. 
“I thought there was too much emphasis on sex and violence,” McGoohan said in the mid-Sixties of the Bond script. 
“It has an insidious and powerful influence on children. Would you like your son to grow up like James Bond? Since I hold these views strongly as an individual and parent I didn’t see how I could contribute to the very things to which I objected.” 
And it wasn’t just sour grapes at having turned down a role which could have given his family financial security for life. McGoohan may have had a profound work ethic and been widely admired for his abilities as an actor but his attitude towards the depiction of sex on screen was decidedly odd. 
He insisted that he would only take the part of secret agent John Drake if all salacious elements were removed and if the character was allowed to survive on his wits and fists rather than carry a gun. 
“I remember Pat being absolutely furious about one of the four pilot scripts,” recalls Ian Stuart Black, the writer of Danger Man, in a fascinating new biography of the mercurial actor who was born in New York in 1928 to Irish parents. 
“He was absolutely furious because I had him lying on a bed with a girl in order to open a safe which was behind the bed, nothing more. Pat was white faced with anger because of this apparently dishonest sexual implication.” 
But this reaction was typical says biographer Rupert Booth. “There are many similar stories of McGoohan’s heated objections to performing anything that could even remotely be considered sexual on screen,” he says. 
His attitudes may have been good news for his family but they brought him into conflict with his co-workers. 
“I was just amazed that a professional actor would not do what a professional actor should do, which is to do the story,” recalls Anthony Skene, another Danger Man writer, who witnessed McGoohan refusing to kiss a co-star. 
“You don’t let your personal foolishness get in the way but he certainly did.” 
McGoohan dismissed the criticisms. 
“Call me prissy Pat,” he once told an interviewer. “I see TV as the third parent. Every week a different girl? Served up piping hot for tea? With the children and grannies watching?” 
McGoohan’s unfashionable ideals could largely be explained by his unusual relationship with adored wife Joan – unusual by the standards of how an actor living and working in the Sixties was supposed to behave, that is. 
McGoohan was a fierce romantic and his devotion to Joan was legendary. During their 57-year marriage he wrote her love notes every day and it is believed he was always faithful. 
As a happily married man and a Catholic he made it clear he did not want his three daughters to see him engaged in a romantic liaison with another woman, even in a performance. 
“I have two guiding lights before me every second of my working day,” he once declared. “The first is my daughters. The second my religion.” 
His determination meant that Danger Man was produced to his satisfaction despite resistance from the highest levels to his “no guns, no girls” policy. 
“A high-powered sales and publicity executive arrived from New York to meet me for lunch in the studio restaurant. They wanted the guns and the girls reinstated. Without them they were convinced the series would be a resounding commercial flop.” 
McGoohan somehow persuaded the executive to let the series continue without them. “He went off and sold the completed series – minus sex and brutality – to 61 countries and they made a fortune, he later explained. 
Danger Man became a worldwide hit catapulting McGoohan to stardom...
Those linking to the Daily Express article will find that the piece goes on to describe McGoohan's drinking, his "dictatorial behavior" and a number of seemingly manic episodes of violence on the set of The Prisoner. Oh, heck, let's run those as well:
...However his dependency on alcohol was growing and in 1964 he was arrested for drink-driving. 
He spent six days in prison and was banned from driving for one year. 
HE WAS finding the conflict between his two lives increasingly difficult: the retiring family man and the workaholic actor. And the pressure was about to increase. The second series of Danger Man would make him the most highly paid television actor in the UK on £2,000 a week. 
“When an actor has a leading part in a thing like this it is all the more necessary for him to be more disciplined,” he said but behind the scenes he was struggling. 
“The Jekyll and Hyde persona that would characterise much of his time spent fi lming on his next and perhaps best-loved project, The Prisoner, were already in evidence, often linked to an over-indulgence in alcohol,” says Rupert Booth. 
Actor Gertan Klauber, who was in an episode of The Prisoner, revealed that McGoohan could take fight scenes far too far. After a lunch that “had gone on a little too long” the two actors rehearsed their scene. 
“Unfortunately I was struck several times,” says Klauber. “After the second take I said to McGoohan, ‘Please do not hit me because otherwise the whole thing will go into fisticuffs… there’s just a certain amount of pain you can take.’ And in fact it did develop in take three and four into a fighting match.” 
Booth turned up several examples of the actor being a very bad drunk. “While his conduct was mostly faultless in the outside world, with the notable exception of the drinkdriving conviction, it does seem that whilst working in the protective atmosphere of the set he was more liable to let his rock-solid self-control slip,” says Booth. 
As time went on his behaviour on set became increasingly erratic. He couldn’t tolerate the compromises of the production process and began drinking more heavily. 
ACTRESS Annette Andre, who had a part in The Prisoner, says she hated every second she spent working with McGoohan. “And that was down to Patrick. It’s no secret that I just loathed Patrick from the moment I started. I tried to be nice and he… doesn’t work with actresses at all well.” 
McGoohan’s dictatorial behaviour as star and co-creator of the cult show indicated he had little respect for other people’s feelings. As filming went on his temper became more prone to fraying and his actions more unpredictable. He was also averaging no more than two hours’ sleep a night and there were suggestions he was suffering from bipolar disorder, then known as manic depression. 
“The suave and charming Dr Jekyll had metamorphosed fully into Mr Hyde with an overwhelming drive to make the show succeed at whatever cost,” says Booth. 
According to fellow actor Mark Eden, McGoohan – who died in 2009 aged 80 – was on the verge of mental collapse back then. “I think he was having a bit of a nervous breakdown to be honest. He was terribly uptight… he had a terrible row with the director on the set, screaming. And he sacked him.” 
Eden’s experience of McGoohan’s violence was terrifying. “There was a bit where he had to get on top of me and strangle me and I had to push him off… and he was really strangling me. I looked up and I could see these mad eyes looking down at me and I thought, ‘He’s gone, he’s gone…’ and his face was contorted with rage… and he’s a big man.” 
It took every ounce of his strength to push him off. Word of McGoohan’s ferocity on set spread and his career as it had been was over.
Well, obviously his career wasn't over (though it wouldn't be the conventional career of a leading man). It should also be noted that the final third of the Express article is a somewhat negative compression of Booth's material. Booth also cites other costars who had different impressions. Angela Browne who played Number 86 in "A Change of Mind", while remarking on McGoohan's "intensity" on the set of The Prisoner found the actor "smashing". Earlier, "actually I fell in love with him; I just adored him and he was so kind to me." (Booth used material from that interview here.)

Now here is the promised Cronenberg bit (from IMDb in 2011):
Movie and TV icon Patrick McGoohan had his Scanners co-star Jennifer O'Neill in tears on the set of the cult 1981 film by ripping into her for marrying three times. 
A fervent Catholic, The Prisoner star took exception to O'Neill's personal life and didn't hold back in letting her know. 
Director David Cronenberg recalls, "He had extreme Catholic views about sexuality, which came onto the set. 
"My leading lady... came to me incredibly distraught and said, 'Patrick said, 'Are you a whore? Are you a slut?' And he started to lay into her because she'd had, like, five husbands. 
"That was Patrick, and those were the things I had to deal with as a relatively young director. He was probably the most difficult actor I ever worked with, though he gave a fantastic performance." 
At the time, O'Neill had wed three times. She went on to marry another two men and has been wed to Mervin Louque since 1997.
One should be skeptical here, among other things because in my experience people hostile to Catholicism often, frankly, make up stuff like this (see two and three posts below). But assuming McGoohan said the words (or something like them) that O'Neill said he did, it would be hard to believe that there isn't some additional context to it, as if he would just walk up to his co-star and start insulting her. Then again, the actor did have a reputation for being difficult. Perhaps it was a Mel Gibson moment.

I hope readers--Prisoner fans, Catholics and non-Catholics will find the above material interesting. Some of it--the first part of that Express interview--should be inspiring to Catholics, while other parts will no doubt confirm the anti-Catholic view that many Catholics (or many male Catholics anyway) are belligerent alcoholic misogynists.

Don't blame me, man, I just report things.

In Part 3, I'll return to The Prisoner. Is it libertarian allegory, Catholic allegory, or just a brilliant television show? Or could it be all three?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner, Part 1


So, after taking a hiatus from game blogging for the past seven weeks, I am working my way back. Writing takes a fair amount out of me (in time, among other things), and it's difficult for me to focus on two somewhat disparate categories at once. But I'm going to make a try at doing so. The next three posts will be a bridge. They aren't about gaming, per se, but I think they will be of interest to many gamers. Because of the religious and political angles (more in evidence in parts 2 and 3) they will be cross-posted on my religious/political blog Mahound's Paradise.

I was first exposed to Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner when I saw a re-run of the show on English television in 1983-84 while I was an undergraduate in London. When I returned to the States I became an evangelist for the show among my friends. I loved The Prisoner (which originally ran in 1967-68) and still think it is one of the finest series television has produced. At the time I was also a newbie "libertarian" and hung out on the fringes of the Libertarian Alliance folks associated with the Alternative Bookshop (closed long ago) in London. One of the LA founders, Chris Tame, wrote a paper called "Different Values" where he identified The Prisoner as quintessentially libertarian and individualist (which is sort of an obvious point, but it's wonderful essay) and cited McGoohan for playing other great individualist characters such as the title character of Ibsen's Brand on the London stage in 1959 (also videotaped by the BBC and available on DVD as well as YouTube) and John Drake in Danger Man (aka Secret Agent), 1960-62, 64-68, the forerunner of The Prisoner. McGoohan quickly became one of my heroes.

For the fun of it, here's the famous three-minute opening sequence. Absolutely brilliant:


I didn't know McGoohan's formal politics (if he had any). I did remember seeing an interview with him as a grumpy old man where he made grumpy old man snarks at Ronald Reagan. (In checking into it, I discovered that the interview I saw was made in 1985, when he was only 57 or 58. It's available on YouTube in two parts here and here). So I always imagined that the actor's politics were at least vaguely leftist.

And I still don't know precisely what his formal politics were (McGoohan passed away in 2009). And do be honest I didn't care then and I don't care now. But today (sort of randomly), I found out something fascinating that I never knew.

McGoohan was a devout Catholic.

On that tantalizing note, I'm going to leave things here. This will be a three part series of posts (this one is the first). The second part will discuss McGoohan's Catholic Faith and how it influenced his acting career. The last will discuss the individualism expressed by The Prisoner as well as by McGoohan himself in his acting choices. Is it necessarily libertarian? Can it be Catholic (presumably McGoohan thought so)? And what of the relation between libertarianism and Catholicism. Are they opposed? Can they be reconciled? I think this will be fun. But for now

Be seeing you...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"My Heart is Broken, Oakes" - A Love Story


I'm not a big Facebook person. I have 108 friends. They're all either old school chums that have friended me out of nostalgia, a few current actual friends and coworkers, friends and family of my wife and for the last few months, a growing number of Traditional Catholics that I talk Catholicism with. Recently I have linked to my new "political" blog, and I sometimes get one or two "likes" or generic comments, but in general no one argues or argues politics.

A few days ago an old friend from Cambridge--a senior citizen mother (who is a lefty) of a school chum--got into a brief argument about violence vs. pacifism with a new Catholic virtual friend (who I presume is a righty). My lefty friend graciously ended the brief exchange by saying that "debate was good."  And then I stepped in to say I valued them both. That was the end of that. 

A few months ago, Andy Action-Markham asked to "friend" me. He was a gamer guy that I knew from Google Plus and his name was familiar to me because his avatar often graced discussions linked to my gaming blog and/or about the game I published. So I accepted his "friend" invitation.

Little did I know...

Fast forward a few weeks or months. In that time Andy and I had had a few exchanges about gaming, and he'd also written a few neutral or favorable comments on Google Plus and Blogger about by new "political" blog, Mahound's Paradise, that I had started in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The blog is anti-Islam (as should be obvious from the name) but it also has a focus on discussing Jewish and Catholic issues. Anytime you criticize Islam you're going to get people calling you a "racist", "bigot" and worse, but Andy seemed to have no problem with that.

Fast forward a week. It's 3 AM and I'm randomly looking at my Facebook feed in a bored way. Indeed, scanning Facebook had always been for me a pretty intermittent and rare occurrence--something to do when bored. I might find some random thing and write a goofy comment to some school chum I hadn't seen in thirty-five years, or "like" a picture of a baby from my in-laws, etc.

So in scrolling my feed I see this:



It was from Andy, but it could just as well been from one of my lefty school chums or current friends. Now, it just so happens that another one of my Facebook friends is a gay guy who I met at the Miami Marathon a few years back. He lives in California, is a member of George Takei's LGBT running team and had some funny and good things to say about Takei. It also happens that, as some people know, I love Star Trek. So in the spirit of bleary-eyed 3 AM Facebook comradeship I decided to write something friendly. I believe I wrote something like this (I say believe because I deleted the comment and Andy claims not to have it):
Though I cannot completely support the politics, George Takei is a fellow runner and a good man. Long live Captain Sulu!
Was this the high-point of Spalding's wit, charm and precise prose? Of course not. It was a silly 3 AM Facebook comment. I went to sleep.

I woke up a few hours later and, because I stress about these things, I started to think that perhaps I shouldn't have written that comment. After all, the post seemed to be one of those Facebook moments where everyone celebrates a particular thing together. And even though I intended my post to be friendly, the "though I cannot completely support the politics" part might have annoyed some people. It's Andy's thing (or his friends' thing) and who am I to intrude into it? (Though I wasn't sure Andy or anyone else would really care.) It's not about me and my friendship with a gay runner who knew Takei or my love of Star Trek or whatever. It's about a bunch of people getting enjoyment out of mutually supporting some cause--in this case gay-marriage and related issues--together.

So I deleted the post.

Too late.

I noticed this in my email:

Or rather, that was the actual Facebook version of it. Andy's comment is on top because I had deleted my comment. So, hoping that I hadn't offended my new gaming Facebook friend I wrote him an instant message. Here is the full exchange:
That's it.

Now. Andy has recently implied that I have been inundating social media with anti-gay hate. The above deleted comment and our subsequent private exchange are the only places on Google or Facebook where I have taken a position one way or another on any issues related to gay marriage or gay issues (I think). So, therefore:

Andy Action-Markham is nothing but a psychotic liar.

Regarding the initial message, Andy has implied that I started "it" by making some sort of trollish "God Hates Fags" drive-by on his Facebook page that I then deleted to cover my tracks or whatever.

That's a lie as well, although obviously I can't prove it since I deleted it.

But if I had said something even remotely resembling that, why would Andy have behaved the way he did after I messaged him?
"God hates fags!  
"My heart is broken Oakes, but of course we can still be friends" (followed by additional cordial conversations).
Sure. 

Now, of course I am against gay-marriage. But for various reasons (some obvious, some not) I have chosen not to make an issue of it on social media. I know some of my Catholic friends would say that's cowardly. Perhaps it is.

Let's pause here. If simply knowing that Oakes Spalding is against gay marriage makes you feel that Spalding is therefore a "spewer of hate", or a "gay-hater" or a "homophobe", if, in other words, you feel that opposing gay marriage is only one step away from "God hates fags", if you believe that anyone opposed to gay marriage, even if never publicly expressing that opinion, should be, among other things blacklisted from the RPG industry, then I want you to stop reading right now. "Uncircle me" or whatever and go away. I don't want your friendship, association or business. I think you are nothing but an intolerant almost certainly anti-Christian, bigoted slime ball.

Is that because I disagree with you on the gay-marriage issue? No. Actually, it's almost the opposite. It's because you can't tolerate disagreement on it.

If you can tolerate disagreement on it, then in this context I couldn't care less whether you agree with me or not on the issue.

Welcome.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's continue.

Back to Andy for a moment. Along with the homophobe thing he's now hitting on the Islamophobe thing. I spew hate against Muslims because I'm a racist bigot, etc., etc. Okay, what's the most offensive thing one might imagine an Islamophobe saying? How about comparing Mohammad--the founder of that lovely religion--with Cthulhu--that hundred-meter tall alien monster, and implicitly (so it might be argued) comparing Muslims with Cthulhu Mythos cultists?

Yes I did that. Pretty potentially offensive right?

Well, here's Andy, commenting on the link to that post in Facebook, looking like he's digging it (with some qualifications):



The "like" is from me. I'm that kind of guy.

(By the way, that's Cthulhu on the right. The fellow on the left is not actually that Mohammad. Seriously it isn't. It's a painting of some Egyptian guy named "Mohammad Somethingorother" that I mistakenly took off of Google. What do you think I have, a death wish?)

Now, actually, I don't think Andy is any particular friend of Islam, or has any real problem with people who don't like it. That's because, as some sort of agnostic or atheist, Andy prides himself on hating all religions. So the new "let's ban Spalding because he's an Islamophobe" thing is nothing but a pose. (Again, see above.) But as we'll see in a moment and as can be somewhat seen above, Andy hates Christians so much that if you don't like Islam and you are a Christian, that crosses the line.

Or maybe it's just if you are a Christian.

The story is almost over.

In the next week or so I made some more links to my blog on Facebook and Google Plus. Andy and I had no private or public exchanges. I made no comments about gay issues. And my blog was just as "Islamophobic" as always, though more than half the posts were about free-speech, the new anti-Semitism in Europe or wonky Traditionalist Catholic issues that no one outside that circle would probably care about either way.

But Andy started to make comments on Facebook and Google that grew more and more annoying and hostile. I actually think he was on a mission to prove that I was a hypocrite (or whatever) for choosing one religion over another. Here was the first that I left up:



The above were comments on a link where I told my Catholic friends that they might think my blog was offensive (because I approvingly quoted atheists like Bill Maher) among other things. (Steve Skojec is a well-known Catholic blogger who I like a lot. We banter around from time to time and I was trying to get his favorable attention for my blog.)

Note the contrast between my sensitivity in "intruding" on Andy's page by making an overall friendly and complimentary comment about George Takei (and then deleting it out of the same sensitivity) with Andy's insistence to "get in my face" whenever I put something up on my page. And of course, he was the only "outsider" among my "friends", but he had to pre-empt every other post to my friends with some snark on me, other Christians (at least half of my "friends") or Christianity.

So, Andy wrote three more snarky comments on Facebook and Google Plus. I left the one up on Google Plus because the vibe there is different. But the Facebook ones were annoying and (I found out later) were irritating my Catholic friends.
How "Christian" of you! 
So, help me understand Oakes - you're not a fan of this Pope, obviously. Do you think that he is illegitimate? (This sounds sort of innocuous, but in context of what he was commenting on it was inappropriate and hostile) 
So, what is your end goal with your current "hate Islam all the time" blog? Muslims should convert? Muslims should die? Muslims should come to their senses? Just want us all to know that you really, really hate Islam? We get it - you just don't like them. So what?
Again, contrast the one time where I wrote anything on his page:
I'm against gay marriage. I tried to be complementary about Takei but I shouldn't have intruded on the post. I just deleted the comment. Thanks for supporting my new blog, Andy. Take care.

I deleted the last two comments (silently) without commenting or attacking Andy, thinking he would just get the message. He didn't. When he did it again I unfriended him from Facebook, again silently, without commenting or attacking him. That of course led to this:



And then, of course, calling him "obnoxious" led to this:


At that point it became clear to me that Andy Action-Markham was dishonest, spiteful, and a sort of borderline psychotic. I had no idea how serious he was or how many people he knew in the RPG industry. But given current trends in the industry, I took the threat seriously and realized that it could have harmful results. So, I decided to (in the words of our current Pope) punch Andy back.

Andy never publicly said any of the bad stuff (that I'm a racist hate-monger who should be shunned in the RPG community) until I silently "unfriended" him on Facebook (and then responded to his frantic and more and more angry messages by curtly calling his behavior obnoxious). But perhaps he felt that way all along and was simply lying about wanting to remain friends despite our differences and laughing along with me about Mohammad being compared to Cthulhu, etc. Maybe it was all an insincere ploy to gather "evidence", as it were, on my awfulness, to later present to the RPG tribunal, or whatever.

Though, in that case, it's odd that he would so strongly feel that he had a "right" to be on my Facebook page--the lone spy, as it were among my school chums and Catholic friends.

That's my side of the love story.

And that's all about Andy (well almost all). Tomorrow we'll talk about free-speech, tolerance and hate, in general, and the curious inconsistencies regarding these that many (though by no means all) on the political "left" seem to have.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

After Being "Unfriended" On Facebook, Man Vows Former "Friend" Will be Blacklisted in the RPG Community

Alternate longer title: Man Content to Read Post After Post on Facebook Containing "Hate Speech", But When Man Is Quietly "Unfriended" by the "Hate Speech" Person, He Vows to Ruin Him in the RPG Industry.

Well, these are actual screenshots, of course. (The one's above follow the one's below.) But the following dialogue, recorded earlier this morning, comes from a source that for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous. It's a conversation between Andy Action-Markham and an unidentified woman at Starbucks:

Andy Action-Markham: So, this Spalding guy just unfriended me on Facebook.
Woman (feigning mild-interest): That's nice, honey.
Action: But you don't understand. We were "friends" and then he "unfriended" me. I can't believe he did that.
Woman: What did he say?
Action: That's the whole point. He didn't say ANYTHING. I was wondering why I wasn't seeing his posts anymore. And then this morning I decided to check. I checked his friends list and then with mounting disbelief, I checked it again. I wasn't on it.
Woman: But don't people do that all the time? Perhaps you're spending too many hours online. Haven't we talked about this before?
Action: But, but, Spalding was like, Mr. pro-free speech guy. Don't you see, that makes him a total hypocrite!
Woman: If you say so, dear.
Action: Also, he was using Facebook and Google Plus to engage in hate speech.
Woman (continuing to feign mild interest): What a jerk. But in that case, why did you stay friends with him?
Action: Well, I kept up the link on Facebook because I wanted to read what he had to say. Also when he put up a post for his chums I liked to occasionally write a snarky comment at the beginning. You know, hate speech needs to be resisted.
Woman: Then why were you surprised when he "unfriended" you?
Action: It's the principle of the thing.
Woman: Obviously.
Action: Anyway, even though he had unfriended me, I managed to figure out how to send him an Instant Message. Here, take a look, and then check out his response. He actually called me obnoxious. Can you believe it?
Woman: You don't want me to answer that, dear. I thought you earlier said you wrote comments on more than one post?
Action: Well, okay, it was four comments, but still.
Woman: What are you going to do now?
Action: Well, I sent three messages back to him.
Woman: And?
Action: He DIDN'T EVEN ANSWER THEM. Even when I called him a bigot he didn't respond. Can you believe that? He DENIED me the right to converse with him through Instant Messaging.
Woman: I see.
Action: But I'll fix him. In my final message I said I would use all my connections in the RPG community to make sure everyone is aware that Spalding engages in hate speech. He will have a very very hard time working with anyone in the community again.
Woman: Andy?
Action: Yes?
Woman: If you want my honest opinion, I think all this is because he hurt your feelings. Despite all that stuff about "hate speech" and such, it was all fine until he unfriended you. You liked him and wanted his respect. When you realized you didn't have it, you had a sort of hissy fit. We've talked about this before.
Action: Do you think if I send him another message with an apology, he'll be my friend again?
Woman: I doubt it.
Action: Well, you're my friend, aren't you? And we're still on for tonight, right?
Woman: Of course I'm your friend, Andy. But I have to wash my hair tonight. Why don't you go play on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Murdered Cartoonist Illustrated French Dungeons & Dragons Game


The French RPG site Le Grog reported that murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Tignous (Bernard Verlhac) was a veteran games illustrator. Among other credits including Laelith for Casus Belli magazine and MEGA for Strategy Games magazine, he appears to have been the illustrator for the mid-1980's TSR board game Le Sourire Du Dragon, based on the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series. The link to the board game was made by me, and I do not read French, so any additions or corrections to this information would be welcome.


UPDATE (10:00 PM CST): It looks like the box cover was based on a promotional poster by the American artist Bill Sienkiewicz. See Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon Encyclopedia. Thus, Tignous did the board (and the cards, I assume, though they were presumably based on the original cartoon images).

Monday, January 5, 2015

City State of the Invincible Empress Jool-ee


At the risk of testing anyone's patience, this is the FINAL test map before knuckling down and writing the tutorial. The above is an "artistic" player's map without any hex grids, but only using the terrain and icons of the free version of Hexographer. I suck at names (obviously) so partly for that reason but also partly for the fun of it, five places are named after family members. (Guess which ones. Hint: No, my children are not named "Skull" and "Gore".) But I did try to get a bit more evocative and less generic.

I actually like this look for display purposes, though the referee would have a secret color map with more precise detail. You create this by editing and sort of tracing over the previous map. The problem with the mountain and tree icons that I used is that they are "special" icons as far as Hexographer is concerned and thus more difficult to manipulate. Also, the selection is not so great. There are "dune" icons and "rough" icons but nothing precisely desert-ish. And there isn't anything that really works for jungle or swamp. But I think that's okay. Labeling can be good enough.

I know there are better cartographic resources out there in terms of the final look. But this fits with my speed.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Isle of Pleasure


One more set of randomly created Zylarthen maps.

The two above, created with Hexographer, are somewhat similar to the color and black and white schemes used to map the "Gazetteer" world of the X and GAZ series.

The color map is certainly easier to read and has the virtue of the terrain not interfering (as much) with the captions. But the black and white map seems more "OD&D" to me.

For the Zylarthen tutorial I used the black and white scheme. With a bit of thought and work I believe the captions could be massaged to fit better.

This is more of a southern world, dictated by the random roll of the dice. No swamps or jungles appeared in the south, for example. So since I wanted them, I put them higher, meaning among other things, that if you want real cold or tundra (as we all do sometimes), you presumably have to go "off-map" to the north or northeast.

The "Isle of Pleasure" is an island dominated by a Temple to Pan. God knows what goes on there. But wouldn't one want to find out?

The Mermen live in a coastal cliff village or some such. Remember that in OD&D, Mermen have legs.

For the town in the northwest I rolled that the inhabitants were "Prisoners", hence it's status as some sort of giant prison camp.

Finally, I rolled that the desert village in the southwest was inhabited by "Basilisks". So I surmised that perhaps there was some sort of sudden attack or overrun by the creatures, with preserved human bodies similar to that after a surprise volcanic eruption, such as at Vesuvius.